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Friday, September 17, 2021

Policing force

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On June 11 at 1:45 a.m., 18 days before being involved in the fatal shooting of Aaron Bailey, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) Officer Carlton Howard conducted a traffic stop near 29th and Martin Luther King Jr. streets.

According to a probable cause affidavit acquired by the Recorder, the driver of the vehicle, a Dodge charger, changed lanes while simultaneously hitting his turn signal and was stopped by Howard for failing to signal continuously for 200 feet before switching lanes. After Howard utilized his air horn several times to get the vehicle to stop, the driver pulled up to a gas pump at a nearby service station. The female passenger got out of the vehicle, and Howard ordered her, at gunpoint, to get back inside. The driver, who was later confirmed to be driving under the influence of alcohol, refused to step out of the vehicle when asked, and Howard pulled him out by the wrist. A second officer assisted Howard in placing handcuffs on the driver, who was later arrested. 


When asked about Howard’s actions on that night, namely giving orders at gunpoint to the passenger of the vehicle, IMPD declined to go on the record “due to pending criminal proceedings,” but provided this statement via email:

“Our officers confront dangerous and life-threatening situations on a daily basis. Our policies create rules to guide officers in deciding to draw their weapons and point them at persons for the safety of citizens and the officers. 

Our policies reflect the law allowing officers to draw and point their weapon at another person when reasonable suspicion exists of criminal activity, and there is a reasonable belief of a dangerous or life-threatening situation. Our officers receive over 16 hours of annual training regarding their decision to draw, point and fire the weapon and when to keep the weapon holstered and not shoot. … IMPD considers every officer’s decision to use force seriously; however, we also recognize the inherently dangerous and expeditious changing environments that our officers often find themselves in. We are continually evaluating officer’s use of force to ensure our officers operate within policy and that our policy adheres to nationally recognized best practices and community sentiment.”

The department’s current Use of Force guidelines do not preclude an officer from unholstering a weapon when serving a high-risk warrant, conducting a building search, making a high-risk vehicle stop or facing other situations where the presentation of a firearm is considered a reasonable use of force. The policy also states that pointing a firearm at a person is a use of force that must be “objectively reasonable” in the circumstances.

The increased public focus on police conduct has prompted many departments across the country, including IMPD, to examine policies and create training specifically targeted toward garnering a decrease in lethal outcomes.

Earlier this week, IMPD conducted verbal de-escalation training for a number of its officers. The goal, according to an internal document, was to provide public safety professionals with expanded verbal de-escalation tools, enhance officer and community safety, improve relationships between the police and the community, decrease citizen complaints and honor the proud tradition of the police serving as community “guardians of the peace.”

In an opening statement before the training began, IMPD Chief Roach emphasized the importance of the course, saying, “This has been a long time coming.” The chief mentioned that over the past few years, IMPD leadership has tried to implement various de-escalation trainings among the force. He also noted that the group was there to not only learn for themselves and gain tips to go on and train others, but to also “champion” the lessons they were being taught.

“So often … we (arrive on a scene) and we ask and then we tell and then we make,” said Roach. “A lot of our focus is on the make, and we forget about spending a little more time describing what that tell is and engaging people.”


Humane policing 

Writer, trainer and public speaker Darron Spencer knows all too well the benefits of a more nuanced approach to policing. Spencer, the author of Humane Policing: How Perspectives Can Influence Our Performance, is a former corrections officer and deputy. During his career in law enforcement, he oversaw more than 250 cases that resulted in 40 felony and 74 misdemeanor arrests. He also assisted in four death investigations. 

Spencer’s career on the streets came to an end in February of 2015 due to a spinal injury. Today, he has leveraged his experience to help inform other officers around the nation.

“Humane policing is an individualistic approach to policing, where I train law enforcement personnel to relate to the individual people they are policing. In turn, people began to see the officers as individuals doing a job and not bureaucrats wearing a uniform,” he said. “When I was doing the job, I could tell I was getting better results than my counterparts, and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why or articulate why I was getting the results. It was when I became disabled that I had ample amount of time to critique what I did, why I did it, what worked and didn’t work.”

Spencer noted that of his many accolades, he is most proud of the fact that his penchant for relationship building within his community not only resulted in more solved crimes, but also improved the perception of his work among those he served. 

He shared that beyond working with officers, he would also speak to district attorneys and inform them of the positive cooperation he’d had with suspects in order to negotiate better plea deals. “Right now, most agencies only talk about the negative cooperation of individuals … they’re doing that to justify use of force,” he said. 

When asked what he feels needs to be done to better improve police-community relations, Spencer said addressing the national media is the first step. “They have a tendency to label every situation, and when they label it, it paints a picture that every encounter is racially motivated. That does an injustice to when in fact there is a racially motivated incident.”

He added that police departments could work better internally to ensure they have the right people doing the job. 

“We need to get better as an industry in weeding out the cops that shouldn’t belong in law enforcement,” he said.  


Historical context 

Volney Gay, a professor of psychiatry, religious studies and anthropology at Vanderbilt University and author of On the Pleasures of Owning Persons: The Hidden Face of American Slavery, believes the institution of slavery resulted in outcomes that are evident today, particularly in the relationship between people of color and law enforcement. He described the practices of yesteryear and the policies of today as identical. 

“From the beginning, our founding contract, the constitution, our law was rooted in the defense of slavery,” he said, adding that one consequence was hundreds of years of propaganda about the dangers of Black men, including “that they were dangerous, they could conspire, they’re up to no good and you must use overwhelming force.” 

“The goal of violence like this is not to catch a criminal or corral a criminal,” Gay said. “The point of excessive violence is to make a political, emotional point. It’s to demonstrate to all people, all Black men who might think otherwise that it is hopeless … it’s a form of domestic terrorism.” 

As far as solutions go, Gay remarked that knowledge of the past is important, but true change must happen from within law enforcement.

“Learning what happens and learning how these things occur, I think that is all to the good, but the other part is, police forces have internal cultures, internal rules, and I think you need people from the inside there. I think you could preach to (police departments) forever, but there has to be a genuine resource from within the department, and it can’t be just pastors and newspapers and the mayor. It has to be among the members themselves.” 

<p class=Thirty IMPD officers recently participated in a verbal de-escalation training session led by Dolan Consulting Group LLC, an organization of public policy experts. 


Thirty IMPD officers recently participated in a verbal de-escalation training session led by Dolan Consulting Group LLC, an organization of public policy experts. 

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